OCEAN CITY – A petition opposing newly installed areas of paid parking around the resort has received sufficient numbers of signatures, according to organizers, but the effort will continue until this month’s deadline.
Last month the majority of the City Council voted to approve an ordinance that will enact new areas of paid parking to bring in additional revenue and help close a budget gap. Areas were chosen after city officials and staff met on several occasions studying potential locations. They included on the east side of the driveway in the Public Safety Parking Lot between 65th and 66th streets, City Hall parking lot on the west side of Philadelphia Ave. between North Division and South First streets, 49th Street ocean block, 131st Street from Coastal Hwy. to Sinepuxent Ave. and 146th Street ocean block.
For months, the ordinance met opposition from Ocean Place Condominium owners on 146th Street as well as from the Crab Bag on 131st Street. Those in opposition came together with the recently organized group of Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ) and began petition efforts to place the decision on a ballot to attempt to put a stop to the new meters.
The petition for an ordinance referendum will meet its deadline on July 31. The petition has to gather 40 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last election in last November, or 1,226 signatures. As of Wednesday morning, the OCTSJ announced it had received the sufficient number of signatures.
Upon deadline, the petition will be turned into City Clerk Kelly Allmond, who will review the petition and submit it to the Board of Elections. The board will meet to review the petition and verify the signatures. The signatures will only count if the person is a registered Ocean City voter and signatures cannot be duplicated.
“If they [Board of Elections] determine they have sufficient signatures, they then certify it to the Mayor and City Council and the effect of the ordinance is then stayed pending on an election,” City Solicitor Guy Ayres said.
Allmond verified that if the 1,226 signatures are verified and presented and approved by the Mayor and City Council, the new areas of paid parking will be put on hold until a special election or the next scheduled municipal election is held at which point voters will answer the question on the ballot whether they are in support of the new areas of paid parking or not.
It is the Mayor and Council’s discretion to hold a special election prior to the next scheduled municipal election or wait until the elections in November of 2014. In the meantime, if the petition is found to be successful, the town will be losing out on the revenue generated from the new areas of paid parking that was originally initiated to help close a budget gap.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who counted the signatures, verified Wednesday 1,226 signatures have been received. The amount of signatures will be reviewed by the Board of Elections.
“I support any citizen’s effort but how I line up on parking is not the issue here,” Pillas said. “I am for the community and what they want. If they do not want parking on their streets and it’s a community effort of that area then they shouldn’t have it … I am for the community. I do not work for the government or the council. I work for the community taxpayers.”
Ocean Place Condominium Association Board Vice President Mac Balkcom has hit the streets to collect signatures.
“The enthusiasm is very great,” he said. “We have a voter list so we know who we are dealing with going into a neighborhood … people are very offended by it, and that is even people who are not affected by it directly.”
According to Balkcom, it is the consensus of those involved with the petition that the collection of signatures will not stop and have set a goal to achieve a few hundred more in the next two weeks.
Balkcom has not been the sole signature collector from Ocean Place Condominiums, he said. There have been condo owners traveling to Ocean City collecting signatures for a day or so before heading back home.
“I know each of them is working with others, so it has become quite a community effort … this has really stirred people up,” he said.
Nolen Graves, owner of the Crab Bag located on 131st Street, has also been involved with the paid parking petition.
“We are continuing our efforts. We do not want to slow up and stop just because we think we’ve gotten somewhere when we don’t know if we are yet. We have to be absolutely positive,” he said.
Graves has also received an overwhelming positive response from the public over the petition.
“The people that are signing it are very upset with what we are going through, the process, City Council, you name it. This is a good chance to get out and take the temperature of the public and see what they think, and they are very upset,” he said. “I don’t know anybody that likes paid parking … I call it a no brainer. Parking meters are a nuisance and it is going to be interesting when we are done with this process to see where the city Council takes it.”